« May 2004 | Main | July 2004 »

June 29, 2004

Christopher Hitchens takes Michael Moore

Christopher Hitchens takes Michael Moore to task for his film Fairenheit 9/11 How bad is it? According to Hitch, "I don't think Al Jazeera would, on a bad day, have transmitted anything so utterly propagandistic."

I'm waiting until it's on pay-per-view. Not going to waste a whole evening on Moore's garbage.

Thank you to Mark from Colorado for the link to the Hitchens article.

Posted by Tom at 9:40 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 25, 2004

Yesterday Al Gore underwent another

Yesterday Al Gore underwent another meltdown. He gave a speech to some students at the Georgetown University Law Center in which he claimed that the Bush Administration lied about connections between al Qaeda and Iraq.

This is hardly the first time he has exhibited such behavior. Last month he gave another speech to moveon.org in which he completely lost control of himself. This "speech", too, was more a temper tantrum than anything else.

The inappropriateness of it all is breathtaking. There is a long tradition in this country of ex-presidents, and ex-presidential contenders, not discussing the actions of their successors. Clinton has not commented (much, anyway) on what George Bush has done. George H W Bush and Bob Dole did not critique Clinton once their respective campaigns were over. Even Jimmy Carter, who loathed Reagan, disappeared into the shadows once he lost the 1980 election. To the best of my knowledge Mondale, Dukakis and Dole never commented on the men they lost to either.

But not Al Gore. And it's not just that he makes a few comments in an interview somewhere. He gives a big speech to hundreds of cheering supporters, in which he shouts and gesticulates wildly, all the while making outrageous accusations that are completely unsupported by the facts. And to think that this man came very close to being our president.

It's hard to say which is worse; his wildly inaccurate accusations, his out-of-control behavior, or the inappropriateness of it all. It is certainly not how we expect our ex-senators and vice-presidents to conduct themselves.

Many others have taken Gore to task for his factual inaccuracies, so I won't do a complete Fisking here. Some commentary on Gore here and here.

Maybe I will analyze Gore's remarks and comment on them. But it's not really necessary. The fact that he is commenting at all on the man he lost to, and doing so in such a wildly irresponsible way, tells us all we need to know about him. And what it tells us is that he is unsuited for high office.

Posted by Tom at 12:15 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 24, 2004

From Iraq the Model, Tuesday,

From Iraq the Model, Tuesday, June 22

I feel compelled to write of an experience that occurred a month ago. We had recently driven an insurgent force out of a small town north of Fallujah. The insurgent force left without fighting and the town was largely abandoned.
We had expended much effort clearing the town of the weapons and ammunition that the insurgent force had left behind. People in time occupied the town again and we were determined to provide security for those returning.

My platoon and I were on a security patrol in the countryside on the outskirts of the town when one of our vehicles became stuck on a narrow road bordered by a canal. It was in danger of rolling into the water. We had to stop our vehicles which can be very dangerous.

A family that lived nearby came out of their house and began to move toward our patrol. They were smiling and waving. There were children playing everywhere. The women prepared food and the eldest males met with us.
Our vehicle was badly stuck and we needed chains to remove it. At this point, the surrounding families joined us and showed us tremendous hospitality. This is remarkable because often times, local terrorists will sometimes intimidate those who help us or show us kindness.

Without prompting the men brought out shovels and began to dig out the wheels of our vehicle that were stuck. With much effort, working together, we succeeded in removing our vehicle from danger.
It then struck me. In the middle of the Al Anbar province, where so many Marines and Iraqis were dying together in such senseless violence, this one tribe reached out to us. During all that was transpiring around us, the maelstrom of violence in Fallujah, the negative reporting from self-righteous media, and mistrust that arises from unfamiliar cultures, there was this tribe that we shared smiles with and feelings of goodwill.

With a tremendous language barrier they acted without prompting, bribery and without fear of reprisals from terrorists. I believe what I witnessed was humanity in it's truest form. Through their actions alone they seemed to say "we know you are trying. You have shed blood for us and we thank you." When I return to America, I will tell all American civilians that ask: Iraqis are people of honor, compassion and strong family bonds. There is nowhere I would rather be than here.
A Marine

*David Zadel is a Lieutenant in the 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division in Iraq.

Posted by Tom at 10:48 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Random Thoughts on the War

Random Thoughts on the War on Terror

Here's an account of the May Khobar attack that mirrors my earlier post.

The terrorists are now claiming that they had help from sympathizers the Saudi security forces. Stories here and here.

It may be, however, that we're turning a corner. The Guardian reports "... a growing revulsion in the Muslim world against the random atrocities committed by its self-appointed champions and sees in it a promise of terrorism's defeat" It's worth 10 minutes to read the entire story.

As usual the best analysis can be found at the Belmont Club. If you want to understand what's really going on in the War on Terror that site is a must-read. Wretchard (the author(s?) nom de plume) exposes the shallowness found in most of the "analysis" one finds in the media. From their June 20 post:

The bulk of Western media attention has been focused on Iraq and Afghanistan and on curious side-shows like Abu Ghraib while Al Qaeda makes a bid for Pakistan, with its nuclear weapons and Saudi Arabia with its oil. The press cannot recognize these events as a long-held alternative Islamist strategy to power because it would undermine their principal contention that all terrorist events the world over are consequent to the Iraqi campaign; that Operation Iraqi Freedom represents the Year Zero, before which nothing happened and after which all terrorist history began.

Exactly. It is proper to investigate the abuses at Abu Graib and discover how far up the chain-of-command responsibility lies. It is not proper to splash headline after headline across daily newspapers. Reports are that many in the Middle East now believe that the sort of abuse that went on at that prison is part of our MO. If there is any good news in this, it is that some sensible Muslims in the ME will stop and wonder; why is it that the U.S. will prosecute their own while such investigations never happen in my own country?

The small minds of those who dwell on Abu Graib for political show will be dealt with by historians 20 years hence. When they write their analysis they will discuss it only insofar as it affects our relationship with the "Arab Street", or the reelection chances of Bush. They will not say it was a new Watergate-style scandal, or a that it shows "who we really are".

Posted by Tom at 11:00 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 18, 2004

The Geneva Convention and Guantanamo Bay

We hear a lot these days about the "Geneva Convention", with arguments flying back and forth about how they do or do not apply in this or that situation. I thought it might be useful to do a bit of research on what the convention actually says.

The full title is "Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War". It was adopted in 1949 and entered into force in 1950.

The allegation is that the U.S. is not obeying the Geneva Convention with regard to our treatment of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and in Iraq. We call the prisoners there "detainees" and "illegal combatants", which annoys the liberals considerably. So what does the convention actually say about this?

Article 4, Section A2 provides that:

Members of other militias and members of other volunteer corps, including those of organized resistance movements, belonging to a Party to the conflict and operating in or outside their own territory, even if this territory is occupied, provided that such militias or volunteer corps, including such organized resistance movements, fulfill the following conditions:

(a) That of being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates;

(b) That of having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance;

(c) That of carrying arms openly;

(d) That of conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.

For a "militia or volunteer corps" to qualify for protection under the Geneva Convention, its members must adhere to all four of the above conditions. This is why those prisoners detained at Guantanamo Bay are in fact properly called "illegal combatants".

If combatants adhere to these provisions they are rewarded by decent treatment if captured. We've all seen the World War II movies which feature German prisoner-of-war camps. The Germans treated our people fairly well, unless you were Jewish or tried to escape. Likewise, the U.S. went to great lengths to ensure that captured Germans enjoyed treatment that sometimes even exceeded that required by the convention.

It is also important to remember that the treaty is a two-way street. It basically sets up a reward system for good behavior. "If you play according to the rules, then if you are captured we'll treat you well." The reverse is also true: if you don't play according to the rules, all bets are off. This is the reason why spies can be shot. Even military personnel, if caught out of uniform, count as spies.

Some people, like Al Gore and Joseph Biden, say that we should still grant Geneva Convention protections to insurgents and Al Qaeda terrorists. This is sort of like rewarding your child with dessert even if he doesn't eat the main course. Or like starting a meeting late because a few people can't make it on time; doing so punishes those who show up on time and incents people to show up late. If we follow the Gore/Biden suggestions (demands, really), they we would be encouraging our opponents to adopt terrorist tactics. As if we don't have enough trouble as it is.

At Abu Ghaib we may be in violation of Article 3 (1)(c) which states that "Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment;" The difference, which those on the left are perpetually blind to, is that we will prosecute our own, and our offenses are infinitely smaller than those of the terrorists or many other nations.

A summary of the provisions of the convention can be found on Wikopedia here.

Posted by Tom at 11:25 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 17, 2004

Worried about Saudi Arabia

The more I learn about the situation in Saudi Arabia the more worried I get.

A summary of the Khobar attack was posted by me on June 2. New information paints a far worse picture of what occurred.

In the initial attack, which occurred May 29 and 30, four terrorists raided an upscale housing complex in Khobar, Saudi Arabia. They killed 22 people and injured many more. Saudi security forces stormed the complex the next morning, but three of the terrorists had already escaped.

The terrorists were deliberately singling out those who look like westerners. A BBC crew was shot and killed in Riyadh on June 6. During an interview, the public relations chief for the Saudi Interior Ministry admitted that "...they were shot because of the way they appear, as Westerners."

As if this isn't bad enough, the BBC reports that the escaped terrorists (which, like many news outlets, insist on calling "militants") have published an account of their attack that makes the Saudis look like the Keystone Cops. They easily bypassed the Saudi guards and started their killing spree. Unbothered by the police, who they claim were outside but afraid to enter the compound, they took time out to east at the restaurant in the complex and rest up. Some reports say that the terrorists wandered around the complex for up to sixteen hours unchallenged. The morning of the second day they left and watched the Saudis storm the complex on TV from a safe location.

Another report says that the Saudis did in fact "cut a deal" with the terrorists, letting them go before their own forces moved in. The terrorists had threatened to explode a bomb and kill themselves and their remaining hostages.

The obvious conclusion is that the Saudis are either incompetent or corrupt. Rumors run rife that their security forces have been penetrated by Al Qaeda. And even if this is an exaggeration, it seems evident that many citizens in the kingdom are sympathetic to the terrorist organization's objectives.

One thing that makes it difficult to get information is that the Saudis have not conducted any public trials of captured terrorists. Indeed, it is reported that they all seem to be killed in a "hail of gunfire" from the security forces. While these strong measures win the praise of Washington, they lead one to suspect that the Saudis have ulterior motives; dead men don't tell tales.

Since the Khobar attack the terrorists have focused on killing individual Westerners. It is said that they killed so many people in the Khobar attack that they lost some sympathy. Their latest tactic is to kidnap Westerners. Earlier this week, an American, Paul Johnson, was seized by a group calling itself "Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula". His kidnappers released a video in which they threatened to treat him in the same degrading manner as some of the Iraqi prisoners were at the Abu Ghraib prison.

The ultimate objective of Osama bin Laden is to overthrow the Saudi regime and install a seventh-century style Caliphate. The first step is to drive Westerners from the Kingdom. And indeed some governments, including the U.S. and U.K., have urged their citizens to leave.

It is possible that the Royal family has finally realized the extent of the threat. The Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, recently wrote an article for the government daily newspaper in which he called for a "jihad" against the terrorists. Thomas W. Lippman writes in the Washington Post that " Saudi Arabia is beginning to look like a society under siege" with security checkpoints going up everywhere.

The Saudi response several years ago, when the terrorist wave hit their country, was to just deny that they have a terrorist problem. Initially they blamed Westerners, inventing a "booze / bootlegger" war. In 2001 they arrested five Britons, a Belgian and a Canadian, and forced confessions out of them through repeated torture. This horrific episode was summarized by me in an article posted on May 24 (see archives). Despite expert testimony by two sets of torture experts, the Saudi's have repeatedly denied the torture. Foreign Minister Prince Saud al Faisal told BBC correspondent John Sweeney: "I don't care what the so-called experts say. The experts are not just wrong, they are absolutely wrong".

None of this should be surprising, given that they refused to believe for months that 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were Saudis.

Now at least they admit that the current wave of terrorism is caused by Al Qaeda, but saythat it is "controllable". Various levels of success have been claimed, with Muslim Affairs Minister Dr. Saleh bin Abdulaziz Al Al-shaikh claiming on June 12claiming that they have eliminated half of the terrorist cells in their country. However, Prince Turki Al Faisal, Saudi Ambassador to London, claimed on June 14 that "five out of six" terrorist cells have now been destroyed.

While such claims of success seem clearly oriented towards assuaging public opinion, my guess is that the royal family is in a near state of panic. Prince Bandar's article (noted earlier), along with an analysis in the Christian Science Monitor, lend credence to the view that at least at some levels in their government they are determined to crack down.

As I noted in my earlier piece much of the Al Qaeda activity is a result of a Faustian bargain that the Saudi royal family made many years ago. They decided to tolerate radical Wahhabist support of terrorist organizations in return for the clerics continued support of their regime. Much money for terrorist organizations has been raised in the kingdom over the years, including for Al Qaeda itself.

Even accepting this optimistic view to be accurate, the Saudis still have to overcome the result of decades of tacit support of radical groups. And these results are manifested in sympathy for these groups by many in the population. It will take years to root out the resulting corruption and incompetence.

It is unlikely that Al Qaeda will actually be able to overthrow the government directly. They simply do not have the power to confront well-armed security forces directly. But this is not their strategy. They aim to force a mass exodus of Westerners from the kingdom they can induce an economic crisis which will in turn induce instability. However, unlike in Iran in the late '70s, there is no Ayatollah Khomeini waiting in the wings to take over.

Even if the regime does not fall, if the terrorism continues the results will be detrimental for the west in general and the region in particular. A mass exodus of workers will likely result in lower oil production, which will in turn drive prices higher. Confidence in the regime will be undermined. The region will be destabilized. We have enough difficulties in Iraq, and with additional prospect of a nuclear Iran our plates are full as it is.

Some will say that all of this is the result of the invasion of Iraq. However, the terrorist problem in Saudi Arabia predates the invasion of Iraq and 9/11 itself by several years. The real problem is that western governments ignored the problems within Saudi Arabia until recently. We refused to confront them on their support for Palestinian groups in the '70s. We refused to denounce their radical Wahabbist clerics and the hate they spread. And we virtually ignored the fate of our own citizens when they were unjustly arrested and tortured.

I am not adopting the viewpoint of the "blame America first" crowd, who see everything that goes wrong as our fault. The fault lies squarely with the policies of the repressive Saudi regime. There are things that we could have done, however, which might have persuaded them to have changed their policies.

Unfortunately Iraq has become a breading ground for Al Qaeda terrorists, who are probably infiltrating into Saudi Arabia. Certainly this makes the job of the Saudi security forces more difficult. How well we do in Iraq will influence the outcome in Saudi Arabia.

Posted by Tom at 3:38 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 15, 2004

The Unrecognized Heroes

No, not all of the Iraqis in the new Iraqi Civil Defense Corps cut and run, as some news reports have suggested.

Top Marine Corps commanders in Iraq bestowed valor awards June 11 upon five Iraqi Civil Defense Corps soldiers credited with saving the life of a Marine when their joint patrol was ambushed in May.

The awards, two Navy/Marine Corps Commendation Medals and three Navy/Marine Corps Achievement Medals -- all with combat "V"s -- were presented by Maj. Gen. James N. Mattis, commander of the 1st Marine Division, and Col. John Toolan, who commands Regimental Combat Team 1.

Read the entire account in the Navy Times.

Posted by Tom at 9:56 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 11, 2004

What a wonderful funeral for

What a wonderful funeral for Ronald Reagan here in Washington DC. Pageantry, ceremony, and precision as only the military are truly good at. Margaret Thatcher saying "evil empire" not once but twice in her remarks.

We've lost a great one. Funny I don't really feel sad but rather like celebrating in the manner of an Irish wake. To be sure there were times during the ceremonies when the emotions take over. But you think of his incredible achievements and you become asterisk.

For it was not at all obvious in 1980 as to which would prevail, liberty or totalitarianism. As discussed below, the Soviets were expanding their influence throughout the world. We were still licking our wounds from Vietnam and Watergate. The Carter years left us reeling as we staggered from one crisis to another.

And of course before Reagan it was not considered the mark of a serious thinker to be in favor of limited government or lower taxes. The Laffer Curve was considered a curiosity. Now its dogma.

Simply put, before Reagan it wasn't cool to be conservative. Conservatives were old cranks. One paradox of Reagan is that despite his age he appealed to young people in a way noone else could. Today there are a whole generation of conservatives who grew up during his administration. People now in their early forties who served in his administration and are now influential. And of course average citizens who were looking for inspiration and not finding it before he came along.

Reagan's influence extends far beyond the '80s. Reagan so battered the liberals that the Democrats had to reinvent their party. George H W Bush used the term "liberal" as an epithet to attack Michael Dukakis. The DLC was formed to provide a moderate alternative within the Democratic party to the far left. Seen in this context, the election of Bill Clinton is unimaginable without Ronald Reagan. Today we see John Kerry running hard from the "liberal" label.

Just as Franklin Delano Roosevelt defined a period lasting from 1932 to the late 1960's, Ronald Reagan's influence will go far beyond his presidency or lifetime. We are still in the Age of Reagan.

Posted by Tom at 8:54 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

So let me get this

So let me get this straight. On the day of Ronald Reagan's state funeral, the Washington Post prints a story about Abu Ghraib above the fold. But they don't have an agenda here, do they?

Posted by Tom at 8:51 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 7, 2004

Memories of Reagan

The first time I saw Ronald Reagan was while watching the 1976 Republican National Convention on television. He was in the audience, and many of the delegates were chanting for him to give a speech. He declined with a smile and a wave. I asked my parents who that man was and my mom explained to me that he was the man who had challenged President Ford for the nomination but had lost. By this time I had decided that I was a Republican, mainly because my parents were. Because he had challenged Ford, whom I wanted to win the election, I instinctively decided that I disliked him. Little did I know the influence he would have upon us all.

It during the Carter presidency that I started to pay attention to politics and the world around me. What I saw was a country that appeared to careen from crisis to crisis. Energy, inflation, unemployment, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Iranian hostage crisis, on and on it went. Carter seemed overwhelmed and unable to gain control of events. His plan for dealing with any one of them changed from one week to the next. To top it off he told us that we must learn to accept a lower standard of living.

Then Ronald Reagan returned. His appeal wasn't that he had some specific fourteen-point program complete with footnotes and documentation. Nor did he shake his fist and make threatening speeches about the Soviets or the Iranians. Rather it was his simple confidence in himself and what our country could do if we set our minds to it. He projected this confidence. He made you believe. He was optimistic without wearing rose colored glasses. He wasn't Jimmy Carter, with whom I and the rest of the nation had lost confidence.

Reagan had plans to handle the various crisis, to be sure. But as he reminded us, the solutions were relatively simple and straightforward; lower taxes, a smaller less-intrusive government, and a more robust foreign policy coupled with a strong military. And often the solutions to complex problems are simple, the problem being that people do not have the moral courage to implement them.

And Reagan was true to his word. He restored confidence in the country. He stood up to the Soviets. He didn't blindly pursue arms control treaties for the sake of pursuing a treaty. He wasn't afraid to walk away from a bad deal.

Unlike the conservative leaders of the previous twenty years, such as Barry Goldwater, Reagan's message was not one of being "against" various things. It was a vision of hope for the future, of being in favor of doing certain things. To be sure, any program contains elements of both. The real question is where the emplace lies. Goldwater's victory was to transform the Republican party into the party of conservatism. Reagan's was to transform this in to a message that the country could understand and believe in.

The problem with Carter had never been so much a question of specific military weapons, or overall dollars and cents. His defenders will, for example, rightly point out that it was he who approved the Pershing II and Cruise Missile programs that would eventually be installed in Europe. His problem was rather one of willpower and determination, of fortitude and vision. He spoke of a "malaise" and said that we needed to get over our "inordinate fear of communism".

Reagan showed no such qualms. He called the Soviet Union an "Evil Empire" and made no apologies for doing so. This of course appalled the press, the democrats, and liberal intellectuals, but he had the virtue of being right.

Reagan was not alone in his struggle against communism, for he had partners across the Atlantic who stood firm with him. Margaret Thatcher symbolizes the era as much as Reagan did. Helmut Kohl stood firm in Germany. And Pope John Paul II provided leadership and encouragement to the millions of Christians trapped behind the Iron Curtain.

Reagan called the Soviet bluff in Europe. In the late '70s they had installed new SS-20 nuclear missiles in order to threaten western Europe. Their deployment introduced a new class of weapons which destabilized the continent. Carter and other western leaders ordered a mix of Pershing II missiles, and ground launched cruise missiles (GLCMs) to counter this threat. Their plan was to use them as a negotiating chip.

By the early '80s negotiations with the Soviets had gone nowhere. Reagan instead on a "zero - zero" outcome; the Soviets had to dismantle every one of their SS-20s whether they were deployed in Asia or eastern Europe, and we would dismantle or not deploy our Pershings and GLCMs. This was derided as hopelessly simplistic by the liberal press and foreign policy intellectuals. Oh no, they said, we must reach a middle ground whereby each side can keep some missiles.

The Soviets threatened to walk out of the negotiations if we went ahead with deployment. Reagan insisted that we had no choice but to deploy if they did not agree to his zero - zero option. The U.S. press was full of stories about how we just had to accept the "reasonable" Soviet proposals and that it would be a diasaster if the negotiations broke down.

The governments in western Europe were under much pressure to reneg on their earlier deal and vote against deployment. It was Reagan and Thatcher who provided the vision and courage that enabled them to vote to deploy. Even with this the vote in several parliaments was close.

In the face of large "peace" protests, we went ahead and initiated deployment. Eventually the Soviets came back to the table. They saw that their bluff had been called and that they had the loosing hand. The agreed to Reagans zero - zero proposal. Every single SS-20, Pershing II, and GLCM was destroyed within a few short years.

Carter defenders will point out that it was Carter who initiated the deployment of our counter missiles. The obvious response is to point out that it is highly doubtful that he would have had the courage to see it through to their deployment in the face of massive "peace" protests.

Reagan also decided that we needed to defend ourselves against ballistic missiles and that was that. It was simply morally unacceptable that our only option in a crisis was to threaten to kill millions of enemy civilians. His enemies derided him again, and lampooned the initiative as "Star Wars", but it was Reagan who held the moral upper ground.

Reagan's greatest achievement was to reduce the Soviet Union to the "ash heap of history", just as he said he would. Those who say that he simply came along at a time when the Soviet Union was close to collapse anyway are wrong. 1980 was a moment in time when the world could have gone either direction. Another Carter presidency and the Soviets would have made further advances around the globe. Without increased military spending they could have kept their economy moving.

My emphasis has been on foreign policy because that is what interests me the most. This is not to dimes his accomplishments in the domestic sphere. Before Reagan the idea of large tax cuts or substantial decreases in government were simply not contemplated. That the deficits grew was because spending increased faster than the rate of inflation, not because of the tax cuts. Revenue from taxes increased under his admistration, and it increased because the tax cuts spurred unparalleled economic growth. It simply could not keep up with spending. And liberals need to be reminded at this point that all spending bills must originate in the House of Representatives, which they controlled throughout the '80s.

During the current remembrances, it is easy to forget how harshly he was vilified. "Amiable dunce" was one of the nicer epitethits his enemies used. But none of their barbs could stick. Maddened by his resilience, they attacked Nancy instead. I remember one of my history professors saying that "the word is that this Nancy is something of a bitch." And this was the attitude of much of the liberal establishment. Revealing that you never hear of this now.

Ronald Reagan was the most influential political figure of my time. He was certainly the greatest.

Posted by Tom at 9:21 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 4, 2004

Yesterday John Kerry said that

Yesterday John Kerry said that he would not deploy a missile defense system if elected president:

"Yes, we must invest in missile defense. But not at the cost of other pressing priorities," the Democratic presidential candidate said. "We cannot afford to spend billions to deploy an unproven missile-defense system. Not only is it not ready, but it's the wrong priority for a war on terror where the enemy strikes with a bomb in the back of a truck, or a vial of anthrax in a briefcase."

I remember during the Gulf War, watching the Scuds rain down on our troops in Saudi Arabia and on the Israelis, and saying to myself "This proves how dangerous these missiles are, surely now it will be clear to everyone that we need a defense against them." How wrong I was.

During that war Saddam only had primitive Scuds to fire at us. Today our enemies have much more advanced systems that are both more accurate and have a longer range. During that war I thought "If Saddam can wreck such havoc with such a primitive missile as the Scud, imagine what a more advanced one could do." Apparently those who oppose a defense have done no imagining.

It will be objected that the Patriot performed poorly during the Gulf War and that we can therefore not count on any defense during a new conflict. This of course misses the point. What was important during the Gulf War was that people, in particular the Israelis, believed that Patriot was working. Israel, it will be recalled, was on the verge of attacking Iraq after the first missile strikes on their country. Only the deployment of the Patriot system stopped them. If Israel had become involved in the war the coalition might well have fallen apart. It would certainly have become severely strained.

I am not arguing that perception is reality. But we must keep perceptions in mind. Those who object to missile defense on the grounds that "it won't work" are mainly westerners. The Soviets seemed to think it would work. The Israelis thought it worked. And as long as our enemies think that it might work we can deter them. We remove the certainty that their missiles will strike their intended targets.

Kerry is part of the "research forever, deploy never" crowd. To them, missile defense will never, indeed must never, be ready. For there is no testing regime that will satisfy them, none that will meet their standards of perfection.

It will also be objected that countries such as North Korea will not attack the U.S. because we can hit them back a hundred times harder and "end their country" as President Clinton once put it. This assumes that all actors will behave rationally. More to the point, it assumes that all countries will behave according to our definition of rationality. This assumption is unwarrented. History, anyone?

And of course there is the objection that there are other, more important threats. Well, yes, perhaps there are. And we must work to counter them. But given that the federal budget is almost 2 trillion per year now, with the vast majority being non defense spending, the idea that we cannot both fund defense against "a bomb in the back of a truck" as well as missiles is ludicrous. We are in a war but are not on a war footing. Non-defense spending continues to grow as before. God forbid that non-defense programs should experience significant funding slowdowns, much less cuts, in a time of war. And unfortunately, George Bush has proven that he's not going to be much help in getting overall spending under control. He must hold the course on missile defense.

Posted by Tom at 7:53 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 2, 2004

It should be obvious by

It should be obvious by now that the Saudis have a terrorist problem on their hands that is spiraling out of control. Also obvious is that this didn't just spring up overnight.

Over the weekend terrorists attacked a housing complex in Khobar. Twenty two people were killed, most of them employees of western oil companies. It is believed that Al Qaeda is behind the attack. Saudi security forces were evidentially sent in by helicopter, but waited overnight before storming the complex. At least three of the terrorists got away. As this writing I have seen no report that they have been captured or killed.

Fox News reports that the Saudis chased terrorists "linked to the bombing" throughout a mountainous region for twelve hours before finally killing them.

U.S lawmakers were furious, and have responded strongly in a series of statements on the TV talk shows.

Khobar is not some obscure city. As the Washington Times reported yesterday, "analysis said the attact at the heart of Saudi Arabia's oil producing region had exposed glaring security gaps." Even worse, "This is not somebody planting a bomb and running off. this is large numbers of armed men running amok in a very large sity, which is unprecedented." said one expert quoted by the paper. For terrorists to operate in this manner they must have sypathizers among the populace.

This is the same city where the infamous Khobar Towers complex was bombed in 1996. The attack killed nineteen U.S. military personnel and wounded hundreds.

But we should not be surprised by any of this. The Saudis have been in denial about terrorism for some time now. They refused to believe for some time that fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 terrorists were Saudis. It took much convincing by us to get them to believe even that. Before that they actually believed that western guest workers were behind a series of domestic bombings, inventing the tale that western bootleggers were engaged in a turf war (see May 24 post for complete story).

The Saudis made a Faustian bargain with extremists a long time ago and it is coming back to haunt them. Just as the good Dr Faustus lost his soul to Mephastophilis, the Saudis are in danger of loosing their kingdom to Al Qaida. Many years ago the ruling family made a deal with their extremist Wahabist mullahs: "say what you want during your sermons, just leave us alone." They lavished money in fiddling new Mosques. However, the hate that was preached by their mullas took hold. Many Saudis as sympathetic to Osama and his cause.

It's not as if they weren't warned. We've been telling them for years that they need to change their ways. After the release of James Cottle, a Briton arrested in the "bootlegger" bombings mentioned above, Mary Martini, his ex-wife, said that both the British and Saudi governments "...were in denial that al Qaeda was operating in Saudi. All the while, cells became more organized."

Indeed they have been.

Posted by Tom at 8:38 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 1, 2004

Keep Quiet? Never!

The story of James Cottle, William Sampson, and the others unjustly arrested and tortured by Saudi Arabia is one that can only fill any right-thinking person with horror. When traveling to a foreign country one assumes that, if there is trouble, your government will be there to help. "How can our government not go all-out to help us?" we ask. During Roman times, if a Roman citized was threatened by bandits all he had to do was cry out "I am a Roman!" Those who would do him harm knew that while they might get away with murder today, it was only a matter of time before the legions laid waste to their lands.

We should and must demand that our governments never allow a situation to develop again whereby one of our citizens is unjustly held and tortured. However, in order to correct the situation we must understand how we got to where we are now.

For the fact is that the United States, Great Britain, and other western democracies have long supported, or at least tolerated, certain dictatorships. We have done so for a variety of reasons. In the Second World War we allied ourselves with Stalin's Soviet Union to defeat Nazi Germany. When asked about the morality of such an alliance, Churchill replied that he "would ally myself with the Devil himself if it would defeat Mr Hitler."

During the Cold War we allied ourselves with many authoritarian regimes. South Korea, Taiwan(Republic of China), Iran under the Shah, various Latin American countries, the list is almost endless. And in southeast Asia we allied ourselves with the South Vietnamese government, no Jeffersonian democracy there.

We did this for the same reason that we allied ourselves with the Soviet Union during World War II; to defeat a greater evil. In the 1930's and '40s Nazi Germany presented a threat that would extend beyond it borders, while the Soviet Union was happy to murder it's own citizens. Likewise during the Cold War years; the Soviet Union represented an expansionist threat while the various dictatorships around the world were happy enough to repress their own citizens.

The justification in both instances is that there are different shades of evil, just as there are of good. Churchill was under no illusions about Stalin as he know him to be thoroughly rotten. But Hitler could destroy Britain and all of Europe, so he was the one to be defeated at the time. The government on Taiwan was not until recently a democracy, but the communist one on the mainland was infinitely worse.

This is the concept of relative evil. No one said that the dictatorships that we have tolerated or even supported were good. It is rather that they were less evil, or less of a threat, than the one or ones we were trying to defeat.

Which beings us to Saudi Arabia.

American and British governments are both reluctant to even gently critics the Saudis. It cuts across party lines in the U.S., as Bill Clinton's policies were no different than those of George Bush. While the far left believes, or rather, rants, that it is all due to "Bush family Saudi oil connections" and spins various conspiracy theories, more sober observers know that the truth is far more simple. And the simple truth is that Saudi Arabia is important to us for two reasons; oil and strategic military cooperation.

The oil part hardly needs elaboration. Petroleum is key natural resource. Right now, at our current state of technological development, it represents that most "bang for the buck" energy wise. We will no doubt move away from this dependency as time goes on, but to believe that we can do so quickly is environmental utopianism.

In order to understand the second part we must go back to our concept of relative evil. The fact is, Saudi Arabia was very helpful in defeating Saddam's Iraq. They provided much more help than was acknowledged at the time; bases, intelligence facilities, oil at bargain prices, and more. This cooperation started in it's present form during the Desert Shield operation in 1990. Without Saudi Arabia, we would not have been able to recover Kuwait.

When policy-makers are presented with a situation such as that which befell James Cottle, this concept of relative evil is no doubt the basis of their decision making. They seem quite willing to sacrifice individuals for the "greater good". And, sad to say, the story of James Cottle and the others falsely imprisoned is hardly the only human-rights abuse the Saudi government has committed against us.

American women who have, while living in their home country, married Saudi men have many times discovered to their horror that he has packed up the children one night and fled home. Worse, there is no way to get them back. Forget an appeal to one's own government, for they are not going to help. This has been extensively documented in National Review magazine, among other places.

But do policy makers face the same situation with regards to Saudi Arabia as that which occurred in our earlier examples?

They would answer "yes". And, on the surface, they have a point. We need their oil. Without it our economies would suffer greatly. And we need their cooperation in the War on Terror, they would say, for a variety of reasons I'll not list here.

I would argue that they are wrong. They need to sell us their oil as much as we need to buy it. The Gulf states depend almost entirely on oil revenues. They have no factories and produce nothing else of note. They can refuse to sell oil only for a short period before their economy would totally collapse as they have no other significant source of income.

Some might say "well, they can refuse to sell it to us, but still sell it to other countries." However, oil is a fungible commodity. One drop is as good as the next. When oil is sold it is done so on a world market, and the only important measurement is the total amount available worldwide. If they refuse to sell to us, but say, only to Japan, the Japanese would buy need to buy less from say, Indonesia. Indonesia would have a surplus that we could buy.

Regarding the War on Terror it should be obvious by now that the Saudis are perhaps the most vulnerable of all nations. They are Osama bin Laden's primary target. He sees them as not being worthy stewards of Islam's most holy cities, Mecca and Medina. He means to overthrow them and Al Qaeda has committed many bombings in that country.

So what should Americans, Britons, Canadians, and other like-minded citizens do when loved ones are unjustly imprisoned by the likes of Saudi Arabia?

During the Vietnam War, American wives of captured pilots were similarly urged to "keep quiet" about their husband's imprisonment. Initially they cooperated, but after several years of inaction they decided to speak out and bring the matter to the public's attention. To it's credit, the Nixon Administration finally decided that a harder line towards the Vietnamese was needed. Melvin Laird, Nixon's Secretary of Defense, decided that quiet diplomacy was unproductive and that more public efforts were needed. It was believed by many that it was the public campaign that finally led to productive negotiations.

We must therefore continue to put pressure on our governments to revise their attitude towards the Saudis. The current British policy of advising against "all but essential travel to Saudi Arabia", simply will not do. Exposure will embarrass them. They know that their government is fragile and they need all they help they can get from us. Put simply, they have more to lose than to gain by not reforming. Let's make sure they are forced to do so.

Posted by Tom at 11:00 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack